35. One Step Forward and Three Backward (Genesis 33:1--34:31)
When our church first began to meet, a man stood up in our worship meeting with some very nice things to say about us. He expressed his sincere opinion that ours was the most New Testament church that he had ever experienced. All in all, it was the kind of thing that most of us enjoyed hearing. After he was finished I felt that it was necessary for me to make a few comments. I stood and said that I had two responses as a result of his compliments. First, I hoped that what this man said was true and that we were coming close to what the New Testament church was and should continue to be. Second, I hoped that, if this were true, none of us would ever believe it.
You see, nothing could be more devastating than to be making progress in a particular area and then to be swallowed up by a sense of pride and complacency. We would then tend to rest upon our laurels and fail to press on to greater growth and maturity.
The same principle applies to the matter of security. While we are forever secure in the salvation that Jesus Christ has provided and we have accepted (cf. John 10:27-29), there is a kind of complacency which can be destructive and counter-productive to our spiritual lives. We can wrongly conclude that since we are eternally secure there is no need to press on, that there is no urgency and no imminent danger in our Christian experience. The moment we feel secure, we are in the greatest danger. The moment we become aloof to the intensity of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged and the enemy who seeks to destroy us, we are beginning to fall into the enemy’s grasp.
That is precisely what Jacob does in these two chapters of Genesis. In the first portion of chapter 33 Jacob fearfully faces his brother, expecting that the worst might happen. But once this danger passes, Jacob becomes forgetful of the divine command and of his own vow to return to Bethel. A false sense of security made Jacob careless in his actions and brought him to a point of very grave danger. This danger was both physical and spiritual. Except for the questionable actions of his sons and the providence of God, Jacob could have been virtually destroyed.
This passage is particularly relevant to 20th century Christians who live in America, for we have been lulled into a false sense of security by our comfortable and easy way of life. We have Social Security and Medicare, welfare and workman’s compensation. We have insurance protection for our homes, our health, our ability to earn a living, and against all kinds of losses. We never wake up in the morning wondering if we will eat or where we will sleep the next night. Christians can feel even more comfortable, for many believe that when things really begin to get bad (e.g., the great tribulation) they will not be around to face it anyway because of the rapture.1 In the midst of this kind of artificial security, we begin to live carelessly and find ourselves in danger of some serious spiritual defeats. Let us seek to learn from the life of Jacob how we can avoid complacency and over-confidence, which can be hazardous to our spiritual health.
One Step Forward
Then Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. And he put the maids and their children in front, and Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. But he himself passed on ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. And he lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and said, “Who are these with you?” So he said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the maids came near with their children, and they bowed down. And Leah likewise came near with her children, and they bowed down; and afterward Joseph came near with Rachel, and they bowed down. And he said, “What do you mean by all this company which I have met?” And he said, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” But Esau said, “I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own.” And Jacob said, “No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably. Please take my gift which has been brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have plenty.” Thus he urged him and he took it. Then Esau said, “Let us take our journey and go, and I will go before you.” But he said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds which are nursing are a care to me. And if they are driven hard one day, all the flocks will die. Please let my lord pass on before his servant; and I will proceed at my leisure, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord at Seir.” And Esau said, “Please let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.” So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. (Genesis 33:1-6)
As Genesis 32 closes, the wrestling match between Jacob and the Angel of Jehovah had just ended, and Jacob was crossing Penuel as the sun began to rise (verse 31). At that very moment, it would seem, Jacob looked up and saw Esau and his 400 men appear on the horizon. Jacob divided his wives and children into groups, beginning with the maids and ending with Rachel and Joseph. Jacob went to the head of the group so that any harm done would be inflicted on him first. It was he whom Esau hated; ultimately it was a confrontation between these two brothers. As Jacob went out to meet his brother, he bowed repeatedly to the ground, a token of his newly found humility.
Now this was a very dramatic moment. Esau perhaps rode rapidly up to Jacob and then leaped from his mount and ran toward his brother. Jacob must have watched this approach with great anxiety, especially fixing his gaze upon the weapons that Esau carried. It was not until the warm and tender embrace, underscored by tears of genuine joy, that Jacob realized, to his great relief, that Esau came as a forgiving friend and brother rather than as a foe.
The usual small talk began with questions about the wives and children. Then the conversation turned to the droves of livestock that met him on his approach. Jacob explained once again that they were a gift, an expression of love. Esau tried politely to refuse the gift as unnecessary and unneeded, but Jacob persisted and prevailed.
The tenth verse is the key to the peaceful meeting of these brothers:
“No please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably” (NIV).
In the previous chapter Jacob had been taught that to prevail with God was to prevail with men as well. Now that Esau had welcomed him with open arms, Jacob saw that looking on the face of his brother was like looking on the face of God. The one was the result of the other. God, not Esau, had been the obstacle to Jacob’s entry into Canaan. Now that he had prevailed with God by means of petition and clinging to Him by faith, Esau was no longer a foe, but a friend.
Esau is a magnificent picture of graciousness and forgiveness. His words of greeting to Jacob are remarkably similar to those of the father of the prodigal son at his return (compare Genesis 33:4 with Luke 15:20).2 Having accepted Jacob’s generosity in the gift of the droves of livestock, Esau offered to accompany his brother as he journeyed on to Canaan and, I would suppose, to the home of their father (cf. 31:30). Jacob expressed his appreciation but explained that he could not travel at the same pace as his brother and those with him. The young cattle and children would only serve to slow Esau down unnecessarily. To hurry the children and cattle would only result in needless losses.
Jacob’s reasoning made sense, but Esau seemed to feel it necessary for Jacob and his family and flocks to have an escort. Consequently, he urged Jacob to allow him to have some of his men accompany his party into the land. Jacob indicated that there was really no reason to take such precautions and that all he desired of his brother was his favor. And so Esau went on, assuming that he would see Jacob shortly; but, as we know, this will not happen. It would seem that years would pass until these men met once more. While we wish not to believe it and there may be some plausible explanations for his words,3 one does get the uneasy feeling that Jacob has resorted to his old habit of deception. While he said he was going to meet Esau at Seir (verse 14), he may have had no intention of doing so. Certainly that is the way things worked out, and yet without any good reason. The disastrous results of Jacob’s side trip would indicate that Jacob was wrong in going to Succoth and later to Shechem.
One Step Backward
And Jacob journeyed to Succoth; and built for himself a house, and made booths for his livestock, therefore the place is named Succoth (Genesis 33:17).
It is Derek Kidner who aptly summarizes the significance of Jacob’s journey to Succoth: “Succoth was a backward step, spiritually as well as geographically …”4 God had first appeared to Jacob at Bethel, and it was there that Jacob vowed to someday return to build an altar and give a tithe to God (28:20-22). When God instructed Jacob to return to Canaan, He identified Himself as the “God of Bethel” (31:13). Jacob was instructed to return “to the land of your fathers and to your relatives” (31:3). Succoth was in the opposite direction of Seir where Jacob had told Esau he was coming.5
While the text does not inform us of Jacob’s reasons for such a move, several could be suggested. First, Jacob may not have been eager to face his father, whom he had deceived and of whom he should seek forgiveness. Also, Jacob may not have been too excited about spending much time in close proximity to Esau, who was obviously well able to protect his own interests. Furthermore, Jacob had made a vow to pay a tithe to God at Bethel (28:22). Perhaps he was not eager to do this now that God had greatly prospered him. Finally, and perhaps most likely, the pasture was vastly superior in the Jordan Valley where Succoth was located, while Bethel was in the mountains.6 His cattle would normally fare better in the richer pastures of the Jordan Valley than in the mountains.
More distressing than the direction of Jacob’s travels was the duration of his stay at Succoth. We know that Dinah could not have been older than 6 or 7 when Jacob left Paddan-aram, for she was seemingly born later to Leah (cf. 30:21). But by the time Jacob is at Shechem, she is of marriageable age, which would have been at least 12 or 13. Several years must, therefore, have passed between the meeting of Jacob and Esau and the events of chapter 34.7 Some of those must have passed at Succoth. This is further confirmed by the fact that Jacob built a house there rather than to dwell in a tent (verse 17). He was not a sojourner here, but a settler. There is every indication that Jacob intended to “settle down” for some time.
A Second Backward Step
Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram and camped before the city. And he bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent, from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected there an altar, and called it El-Elohe-Israel (Genesis 33:18-20).
We are not given any reason for Jacob’s departure from Succoth to Shechem. That would probably make interesting reading, but Moses does not seek to satisfy our curiosity. All we know is that Jacob arrived “safely” at the city of Shechem (verse 18). His camping near the city is reminiscent of Lot’s ever closer attachment to the city of Sodom, until he was a citizen. Again, Jacob did not appear to be a man passing through, for he purchased a piece of property from a man whose name he would some day like to forget.
From outward appearance Jacob is a religious man, much like his forefather Abraham. He has built an altar, which he called El-Elohe-Israel. Initially this seems very similar to what Abraham had done in the past, but this thought is short lived. When Abraham built altars, he did so “to the LORD” (12:8), and both Abraham and Isaac “called upon the name of the LORD” in worship (12:8; 13:4; 26:25). With Isaac, the altar was the first thing he built (26:25), while with Jacob it was the last (33:20). All of this, in addition to later developments, strongly suggests that while there was a religious formality, there was no spiritual reality. Jacob promised to build an altar at Bethel (28:22), which he later did (35:13-14), but there does not seem to be any great spiritual exercise here, only ritual. It is extremely difficult to worship God in the place where we are not supposed to be.
A Third Backward Step
Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her by force. And he was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this young girl for a wife.” Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; but his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob kept silent until they came in. Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. Now the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved, and they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done. But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. And intermarry with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. Thus you shall live with us, and the land shall be open before you; live and trade in it, and acquire property in it.” Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “If I find favor in your sight, then I will give whatever you say to me. Ask me ever so much bridal payment and gift, and I will give according as you say to me; but give me the girl in marriage” (Genesis 34:1-12).
Jacob, who had always been a “country boy,” must have been ignorant of the dangers of the city. As close as he lived to Shechem, Dinah found it easy to visit with “the daughters of the land” (verse 1). More than likely, this occurred frequently, and so her involvement with Shechem might not have taken place quite as suddenly as it would appear.8 Shechem may have first seen Dinah and been attracted to her when Jacob purchased the land from Hamor, his father. As the most respected in his father’s house, he could have been a party to this sale (cf. verses 2, 19).
On a particular occasion Shechem was able to seize her while she was alone and to force his affections on her. While his rape of Dinah was an abomination, he had a great love for her and desired to marry her. He urged his father to arrange for their marriage as soon as possible, regardless of the price. Dinah may have remained in his tent while these negotiations took place (cf. verse 26).
Hamor’s offer was one that could have been expected from a Canaanite who was a man of prominence within the community. He sought to assuage the anger of Dinah’s brothers by stressing the great love of Shechem for her (verses 7-8). In addition, such a union would pave the way for many other benefits. They could be free to inter-marry with the Canaanites (verse 9) and also to engage in business more freely (verse 10). Furthermore, whatever they required as a dowry would be paid. Probably Hamor felt that a high price for Dinah would do much to appease the anger of these brothers.
Jacob’s sons were not content with such an offer, but they did see it as providing a means for their getting revenge:
But Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor, with deceit, and spoke to them, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. And they said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you; if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us to be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and go” (Genesis 34:13-17).
I find it of particular interest that these words are attributed to “Jacob’s sons” rather than to “Dinah’s brothers.” The reason must be that in being deceitful they were proving themselves to be sons of their father. We are not entirely surprised by the fact that it is they rather than Jacob who respond to Hamor’s offer. A similar situation is to be recalled in the acquisition of Rebekah for Isaac (cf. 24:50,55, 57-60).
The one concession Jacob’s sons require is stated in such a way that it could be declined only with great difficulty. This is because circumcision is portrayed as a vital part of their religious ritual.9 Circumcision, these sons contended, would unite the Canaanites with the Israelites so that inter-marriage would be acceptable and permissible. If this rite were not followed, then no inter-marriage could take place.
The deceitfulness of Jacob’s sons is in no way defensible. They intended to trick the Canaanites into an arrangement whereby they would be physically incapacitated, especially on the third day of their circumcision. This would make the slaughter of Hamor, Shechem, and all the inhabitants of that city much easier to accomplish. No defense of this plan can be successfully presented.
Jacob’s silence is even more evil than his sons’ schemes. His sons proposed inter-marriage with the Canaanites only as a means to induce them to be circumcised so that they could be overcome more easily. Jacob silently and passively accepted the agreement with the people of Shechem, fully expecting to carry it out. Jacob planned to allow his descendants to inter-marry with the Canaanites, but his sons had no such intention. Jacob, in comparison with his sons, is even more guilty than they!
Jacob’s willingness to inter-marry with the Canaanites is not only contrary to the purposes and promises of God in the Abrahamic covenant, but it is also a direct violation of the instructions which his father had given him:
So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. And may God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you; that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham” (Genesis 28:1-4).
On good faith, Hamor and Shechem went to their fellow citizens and convinced them to comply with the proposal of Jacob’s sons:
Now their words seemed reasonable to Hamor and Shechem, Hamor’s son. And the young man did not delay to do the thing because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. Now he was more respected than all the household of his father. So Hamor and his son, Shechem, came to the gate of their city, and spoke to the men of their city, saying, “These men are friendly with us; therefore let them live in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters in marriage, and give our daughters to them. Only on this condition will the men consent to us to live with us, to become one people: that every male among us be circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock and their property and all their animals be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will live with us.” And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and to his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city (Genesis 34:18-24).
On the surface it was a reasonable offer that Jacob’s sons had made, and Shechem was eager to have the marriage performed. The reason why Hamor and Shechem would comply with the proposal was obvious, but the other men of the city were convinced on financial grounds. Hamor must have been the president of the Shechem Chamber of Commerce. How could his fellow-citizens refuse such a temporary inconvenience when they would eventually profit substantially from the arrangement (verse 23)?
Now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male. And they killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went forth. Jacob’s sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses (Genesis 34:25-29).
Little did the people of Shechem realize the intentions of Dinah’s brothers, whose anger could not be appeased by anything less than the revenge of blood. Weakened by their circumcision, the men of the city were virtually helpless when attacked by Simeon and Levi. It was no less than a slaughter. They killed every male, and the rest of their brothers were quick to share in the spoils.10 All of their wealth along with the women and children was taken.
Jacob’s silence is shattered by the blood bath of his sons:
Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me, by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I shall be destroyed, I and my household.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister as a harlot?” (Genesis 34:30-31).
Surely a word of rebuke was in order, but Jacob’s words lacked force because his reasons were self-centered and not based upon principle, but only on the interest of self-preservation. They brought trouble to Jacob. They made Jacob look bad. They put his life in danger. He might be attacked and destroyed. Jacob seemed to care only about his safety and saving his own skin.
The shallowness of Jacob’s stern rebuke was exposed by his sons response: “Should he treat our sister as a harlot?” The issue of morality had never been raised by Jacob. Granted, the sons’ deception and destruction hardly seems moral, but they, at least, had some sense of the abomination that had taken place concerning their sister, while Jacob was strangely silent and passive on this point.
We can make several observations on the matter of safety from a closer look at these two chapters in Genesis.
First, Jacob was never safer than he was in those times of most evident danger. Think through Jacob’s life for a moment, especially those times of great danger. When fleeing from Esau, Jacob was met by God at Bethel (28:10ff.). When Jacob was hotly pursued by his frustrated and furious uncle, God sternly warned Laban that he should not even speak harshly to Jacob (31:24). This sharply curtailed Laban’s plans (31:29). When Jacob entered into a new and threatening existence in the land of Canaan, he was met by a host of angels assuring him of God’s presence and protection (32:1-2). Finally, as Jacob feared his brother as the sole obstacle to his entry into Canaan and the blessings of God, God Himself met him and wrestled with him, finally “succumbing” to his petition to be blessed. Having prevailed with God, into whose face he looked, he was assured of prevailing over Esau in the meeting that was ahead. Never was Jacob safer than at those times when his life seemed in greatest peril.
Second, Jacob was never in greater danger than at those times when he felt most secure. Jacob seemed to feel safest when his brother was out of sight, and yet it seems that Esau came with his armed men in order to provide an escort for him into Canaan. Jacob felt secure when his cattle could feed on the lush grass of Succoth rather than in the more sparse pastures of Bethel. He felt safer near a city of Canaanites than in the seclusion of some place more remote from civilization. But it was in Shechem that the rape of Dinah occurred, and it was there that Jacob could have been killed by the Canaanites.
The reason for this is really quite simple: we are most inclined to trust in God and obey Him when we sense that we are in grave danger and that our only hope is in God alone to save us. It is sad but true that all of us tend to slack up in our diligence and devotion when things are going along smoothly. We think that we can handle things ourselves when dangers seem distant and troubles are far removed, but when there is a crisis or a sudden overwhelming problem, then we rush to God for help. It is a foxhole kind of Christianity, but that is the way we are.
When Jacob was freed of Esau, whom he perceived to be his principal danger, he felt free to handle matters himself. He sought safety in separation from his brother and from succulent pastures and the security of cities and alliances with pagans. And at this time of spiritual decline, he was remarkably passive in the face of evils which should have been appalling to him. He who was so aggressive in seeking material prosperity had no zeal for moral purity. Self-interest and self-preservation were his only concern.
What a lesson this must have been to the Israelites who read this account of Moses, especially as they were about to enter into the land of Canaan. It should have taught them that their only security was in God. It should have warned them that the greatest danger in the promised land was not the size of the inhabitants or their military prowess, but in becoming carelessly complacent about spiritual purity and resisting false pride.
The Israelites, like Jacob, appeared to be in a place of great danger, trapped as they were between the Red Sea and the soldiers of Egypt (cf. Exodus 14:10-12). The fact was that they were never safer because they were in the will of God and walking according to His word. They were safe because they were where God wanted them to be, and so God made a path through the sea for them.
The great danger for Israel was what would happen once they were in the land. During the years in which they wandered in the desert, they were, humanly speaking, in a most dangerous situation, but God miraculously provided for them. Indeed, God used those circumstances to teach them that the most important matters of life were not food and drink, but obedience to the will of God and the keeping of His word (cf. Deuteronomy 8:1-6).
The greatest danger which Israel would ever face was not the persecution of the Egyptians, for that kept them pure. It was not the problem of survival in the desert, for God met their needs for food and clothing. The greatest danger Israel would face was their prosperity and apparent security once they possessed the land.
Beware lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, “My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.” But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day (Deuteronomy 8:11-18).
Built into the Law which God gave His people were some factors which were intended to stimulate the faith of the Israelites once they were in the land.
You shall thus observe My statutes, and keep My judgments, so as to carry them out, that you may live securely on the land. Then the land will yield its produce, so that you can eat your fill and live securely on it. But if you say, “What are we going to eat on the seventh year if we do not sow or gather in our crops?” then I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year that it will bring forth the crop for three years. When you are sowing the eighth year, you can still eat old things from the crop, eating the old until the ninth year when its crop comes in (Leviticus 25:18-22).
Here God instructed the people not to plant or to harvest in the seventh year. This did, of course, give the land a rest. In addition, it stretched the faith of the Israelites, for it forced them to obey God, even when the normal result would have been a lack of food. They had to trust God to provide for their needs. While Egypt had its river and its very predictable and prosperous farming by irrigation, God brought His people into a land where they must trust Him to provide the rains which the land needed to produce in abundance. These were faith-stimulating conditions, designed to keep the Israelites alert to their dependence upon God for their daily needs. Israel’s only security was in her God, Whom she must trust and Whom she must obey.
If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land (Leviticus 26:3-5).
Man’s security has always been in God, and in God alone. This is not just a New Testament truth; it is an eternal truth.
The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; From His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works. The king is not saved by a mighty army; A warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness; To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, Because we trust in His holy name. Let Thy lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us, According as we have hoped in Thee (Psalm 33:13-22).
There is no security in the “arm of the flesh,” only in the “arm of Jehovah.” If we trust in our own devices, we are exceedingly vulnerable. If we trust in God, we are invincible.
The slaughter of the Canaanites by the sons of Jacob, while done in deception, was a necessity. Had Simeon and Levi not slaughtered the men of this city, Jacob’s sons and daughters would have inter-married. There is little doubt of this since Jacob consented to it. Jacob viewed their friendliness and openness as an evidence of safety and security. In reality, it was the opposite. The willingness of the Canaanites to adopt Jacob, the Israelites, and their religion into their way of life would have defiled the purity which God required for this race. While Jacob did not take such activity as defiling and disgraceful, his sons did (34:7,31), and so did God. Thus it was that He would later instruct the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites due to their depravity and decay (Deuteronomy 20:17-18). From this incident in the life of Jacob the Israelites could see the consequences of cohabitation with the Canaanites.
A number of principles arise from this event in the life of Jacob which apply to us centuries later.
(1) Safety is not something we can provide for ourselves. Men are never secure apart from God. Every non-believer must be warned of this truth. As Peter said centuries ago:
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
(2) Safety comes only from God:
In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For Thou alone, O LORD, dost make me to dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).
(3) The true believer is most secure when he is following the Word of God:
But he who listens to me shall live securely, And shall be at ease from the dread of evil (Proverbs 1:33).
(4) Safety is not the absence of danger, but the acknowledgment of it and the turning to God for protection in it. This was the faith of Daniel’s three companions (cf. Daniel 3:13ff.).
(5) Times of apparent safety which lead to complacency are occasions where danger is at its greatest intensity. The real dangers are most often not seen by the human eye because they are spiritual in nature. These dangers include unbelief, apathy, carnality, compromise, and complacency. And so it is that Christians are urged to be on the alert, attentive to the dangers which are always present, especially when there are times of prosperity and peace:
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (I Corinthians 10:12).
While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober (I Thessalonians 5:3-6).
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8).
Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked (Revelation 3:17).
How different the trials and sufferings of life look in the light of these truths. Life’s trials are not given by God for our destruction, but for our defense. They cause us to cling ever more closely to Him Who is able to give strength in times of need (cf. Hebrews 4:14-16). The trials of life are a gift of God’s grace (Philippians 1:29), intended by a loving Father to strengthen our faith:
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed (Hebrews 12:7-13).
In my estimation most Christians in America prefer to dwell in comfort and complacency rather than to live on the cutting edge of Christianity. Most of us, like Jacob, prefer peace to purity, prosperity to piety, and safety to spirituality. The commands and principles of the New Testament, like the laws of the Old, are designed to cause us to live on the cutting edge of life. That, I believe, is why our Lord told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. That man could not trust in God and gold—it was one or the other. While money is not evil, trusting in it for security is (I Timothy 6:17). God desires to remove from our lives anything which stands in the way of our total trust in Him. May each of us be willing to look only to Him for security and safety, for that is the way God has ordered this universe.
I strongly believe that many Christians desire to live the kind of life that God intends for us to live. The way to do this is intensely simple: trust and obey. Trust leads to obedience to the will and the Word of God. And obeying the Word of God forces us to trust in Him to provide for our every need. May each of us be willing to do as He commands.
1 I, too, believe in the pre-tribulation rapture of the church, but one of the dangers in the Christian life is the misuse of right doctrine. Some twist the doctrine of God’s grace into a license for sin (cf. Romans 5:20-6:23, I Peter 2:16). The doctrine of the return of our Lord was intended to inspire holy living, not carelessness (cf. II Peter 3:11-13), watchfulness, not waywardness (I Thessalonians 5; II Timothy 3).
3 “. . . these words are not to be understood as meaning that he intended to go direct to Seir; consequently they were not a willful deception for the purpose of getting rid of Esau. Jacob’s destination was Canaan, and in Canaan probably Hebron, where his father Isaac still lived. From thence he may have thought of paying a visit to Esau in Seir. Whether he carried out this intention or not, we cannot tell; for we have not a record of all that Jacob did, but only of the principal events of his life.” C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), I, p. 309.
“Few of us could cast the first stone at him for failing to combine grace and truth in refusing an embarrassing invitation. It is also possible, as Delitzsch suggests, that he intended to visit Seir one day, and deceived Esau ‘by deceiving himself.’ None the less, some of the deviousness of the old Jacob comes out, for he could have said plainly that he was under oath to go to Bethel.” Kidner, Genesis, p. 171.
5 “What, then was Jacob’s next step? Actually this: instead of going after Esau to Seir, which was situated southeast of Peniel, he took his journey in an exactly opposite direction, and went to Succoth, northwest of Peniel.” W. H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), p. 312.
6 “Finding better pasture at Succoth for his considerable flocks and herds only furthered the delay. The site of Bethel in the mountains does not offer anything comparable to the fields east of the Jordan near the bottom of the escarpment of the Jordan Valley where the waters of the Jabbok offered drink for his animals.” Harold Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), p. 255.
7 “The implied ages of Jacob’s daughter and his elder sons in the next incident, at Shechem, show that several years were indeed spent in one or both of these places, since Dinah was evidently a child of about seven when the family left Paddan-aram (cf. 30:19-25; 31:41).” Kidner, Genesis, p. 172.
8 “Her action is not prefaced by the phrase ‘Now it happened one day,’ which could then be followed by ‘that Dinah went out. . . .’ It would appear that her visits may have been a frequent occurrence and the event should be introduced by ‘Now Dinah had made it a practice to visit with the women . . .’” Stigers, Genesis, p. 256.